Update: Sea Lungs, Stolen

By Asher Mains

It’s not the way an artist expects to wrap up an exhibit, especially an exhibit on the world stage. It was with a heavy heart that I let out the initial information that my work, Sea Lungs, which was shown in the Grenada National Pavilion at the 57th Biennale di Venezia was missing. With more information and evidence secured I am sharing the unfortunate news that the installation, consisting of 8 paintings on sail cloth, was stolen. At this point, the suspect is not responding to communication, I do not have hope of recovering the work and so I feel that there is nothing to lose in telling my story about Sea Lungs being stolen from the Grenada National Pavilion in Venice.

For purposes of the ongoing investigation by the police in Italy, particularly the art theft unit of the Italian Police, I don’t think it is prudent yet to release his identity, although it shouldn’t be long until we should be able to. What I can relate are details as to how we know unequivocally that there was an individual involved who maliciously stole Sea Lungs. The suspect was someone who worked closely with the Grenada National Pavilion. It takes many people to have a successful exhibit at the Venice Biennale and it is impossible to know ahead of time who is working towards the betterment and development of art and who is working to forward their own agenda. We have made many contacts in Venice who have proved invaluable allies to Grenada and our art. Additionally, the Biennale organization and the guardians for the pavilion had been beyond helpful and cooperative and we are grateful for those in the art world who have been our allies.

This person however, is not an ally. Besides being difficult to work with and unprofessional, this person was someone who makes a good first impression and then quickly devolved into their own egomania. They made costly decisions without conferring with the other decision makers in the pavilion. This person also shirked their duties for much of the duration of the Biennale, being uncooperative and non-communicative. One of my last face to face interactions with this person showed me someone who was unhinged and I felt that an apology was in order. I never received an apology.

The final weeks of the Biennale saw the re-emergence of this person as they had work to do at the Pavilion. This was two weeks before the Biennale was closed and before my representatives were there to take down my work to send back to Grenada. During this time, still not communicating with me as an artist or representatives of the Pavilion he verbally accosted and intimidated our guardians and told numerous lies ranging from his title/position to the date the building was legally leased until. In a petty instance this person even took money that was set out for the lady who came into the Pavilion to clean. It is hard to determine whether this person was always planning on taking my work two weeks before the end of Biennale or if it was an afterthought – a spur of the moment decision like I am sure stealing the cleaning lady’s money was.

The irrefutable evidence came when this person intimidated our guardians and then changed the locks on the doors, ensuring that anything that happened from that point on was the sole liability of this person and their representatives. He had two people working on his behalf as the person in question then left Venice. These two people had to be contacted in order to collect the art work. Milton Williams’ work was deinstalled and these two people made it available to him. Jason De Caires Taylor’s work was to be packed by a person who I also gave authorisation to pack up my work. There were other representatives present and the professional who packed De Caire’s work is not a person of interest and in fact emailed the suspect 3 times asking where Sea Lungs was. No response. The people who worked on behalf of the suspect claimed they did not know where the work was and were hostile towards representatives of the Pavilion.

The suspect in this art heist is still at large. At this point we’re not sure if they are going to try to sell the work to make a profit, destroy the work to be vindictive (and to not be caught with the evidence), or try to use my art work as a way of extorting money. This person claims that he is owed money by the Pavilion but is unable to produce receipts or invoices to justify their ever-changing amount owed. It is possible that taking the work, which has an undisclosed value, was a way of getting money out of the situation – like a hostage situation. Without yet divulging the person’s name, suffice to say that we have a person who had means, motive and opportunity to steal from me and ultimately Grenada and who is the primary suspect in the art theft. At this point I do not have much hope in recovering the work, I have not seen this individual act with benevolence. I do not want, however, for this person to profit off of stealing my work and I want to ensure that anyone else involved with this individual knows that he is a poor example of a professional and should be avoided at all costs. With any luck the formal investigation will conclude quickly and we can all move on with the assurance that the art world is just a little safer from people who are out there for their own gain at the expense of artists and facilitators.

Sea Lungs consists of 8 paintings on sail cloth or ripstop measuring approx. 5 feet by 8 feet. Each figure has a corresponding sea fan to represent the lungs of each figure. Sea Lungs was last seen on Nov. 14th in the Grenada National Pavilion at 417 Dorsoduro, Venice close to the Zattere vaporetto stop. We are clear that this is not the fault or liability of La Biennale di Venezia or our hard-working and professional guardians. If you have any information leading to the reclamation of the work please contact me at ashermains@gmail.com.

Advertisements

Grenada National Pavilion’s “Sea Lungs”: Missing

By Asher Mains

For the 57th La Biennale di Venezia I had the privilege of representing my country as part of an Official National Pavilion at the world’s oldest and largest stage for contemporary art. The event, lasting from Mid-May to late November 2017, saw hundreds of thousands of the world’s most attentive visitors as they came to this sort of “Olympics of Art”. The Grenada National Pavilion welcomed over 60,000 visitors who made their way away from the central Arsenale and Giardini to see and dialogue with Grenada and its contemporary art in this global conversation. I showed proudly along with fellow Grenadian artist, Milton Williams and our headliner for the pavilion, Jason deCaires Taylor who is world renowned, of Caribbean descent, and the creator of Grenada’s Under Water Sculpture park. Our offering of art on behalf of Grenada as a nation was noticed and commended by many international publications and we have been received warmly by the international art community. Sea Lungs, my installation of 8 pieces of sail cloth measuring 5’ x 8’ each with figures sprayed onto them and made complete with a sea fan to represent the figures lungs, were highly visible on social media and a visitor favourite.

A lesser known fact about such high profile art events is that while it is an honour and a privilege and prestigious to show, it is also costly. The venue has to be rented for the 6 months as well as attendants (called guardians) to make sure it is open every day and to answer any questions visitors may have. With up to 500 visitors a day, our guardians were on their toes and we appreciate their multi-lingual abilities and interest in art! There are also regulatory costs to comply with Venice codes not to mention variables like getting literature printed, a banner in front of the pavilion, advertising in Venice, cost of equipment and equipment failure etc. This is all besides the cost of actually making the art and bringing it to Venice. All of the sail cloth I used, spray paint, paper to cut stencils, time and energy cutting stencils, and “model appreciation” of course comes out of the artist’s pocket before they have to buy a plane ticket to Venice to show the work! All this to say – there is a lot of investment and I am grateful to the institutions in Grenada who contributed including Grenada Ministry of Tourism, Grenada Tourism Authority, National Lotteries Authority Grenada, Laluna Resort Grenada, ACT Art and Design Grenada, Art and Soul Gallery Grenada, Century 21 Grenada, Grenada Arts Council, Insurance Consultants Ltd. Grenada, as well as several individual contributors and a few international funders who made it possible!

Grenada is the 11th smallest country in the world and appearing 2 consecutive times at the Venice Biennale is a feat matched only by it’s much larger Caribbean neighbour, Cuba. I personally feel a sense of this smallness as my personal income has not exceeded $11,000 USD a year in the last 6 years. We do not have institutions in Grenada for art such as museums or cultural agencies that ensure Grenada’s consistent involvement at the highest levels of cultural dialogue in the world. Everything we are doing at this stage is an investment and with intention to develop our own art scene as well as the art scene of the region. We are Davids in consult with Goliaths. Even the theme of the unified work of Williams, deCaires Taylor and myself deal with the very real and pertinent issue of our planet as David – the impact on our coral reefs as a result of varied environmental realities. My figures were posed as if to personify the reef responding to its own demise and then creating the correlation with the sea fan to remind us that our own breath begins in the sea and the life of the reef is correlated to our own life. In spite of the cost and investment involved in showing in Venice, our artists still drew humble attention to the reality affecting our marine ecosystems, showing a form of activism through art at the highest level that it could be consumed.

All of this is what makes it sting that at the end of the Venice Biennale, Sea Lungs is missing. While reflecting on it, maybe this is a bad omen for the state of our reefs that the work that was created as a symbol of the reef would disappear like our reefs if nothing changes. I had multiple people who were responsible for packing up the art and returning it home to Grenada but when they arrived to the locked pavilion the work was not there. I would not have been able to afford to travel to Venice myself and so I relied on locks, keys, and agents to secure my work.  Aside from any monetary value that the work may have, (sale of work is not typical or expected at the Venice Biennale), I am missing the hours of labor that depicted these figures, many of them people I grew up with, and the actual art work that I would not be able to propose to any more shows or exhibits. Regardless, Sea Lungs represents critical work in the art history of Grenada and the region and no one is sure if it is in a basement, the bottom of a canal in Venice or staged to sell at an art fair to an unaware buyer. My hope is that we can get to the bottom of this art heist because while it is a personal loss it also feels like a fight against something greater. We are fighting for the Davids of the art world to continue to exhibit and create waves. We are fighting for awareness and personal/corporate responsibility as far as the life of the reef and marine ecosystems. One of the most apparent fights is to encourage young artists to continue to strive towards greatness in their field, artist or not, without the fear that their work will go missing or plagiarised or any number of professional deplorable reactions. What has not gone missing from me as an artist is the ability to continue to work, continue to question and to imagine a better way for the world to be. While I originally directed the models in Sea Lungs to pose as if they are going through the 5 stages of grief, looking at the images of the work now they look like they are longing. These are faces I recognise and materials I know and when I look at them now, they look like they want to come home.

Sea Lungs consists of 8 paintings on sail cloth or ripstop measuring approx. 5 feet by 8 feet. Each figure has a corresponding sea fan to represent the lungs of each figure. Sea Lungs was last seen on Nov. 14th in the Grenada National Pavilion at 417 Dorsoduro, Venice close to the Zattere vaporetto stop. We are clear that this is not the fault or liability of La Biennale di Venezia or our hard-working and professional guardians. If you have any information leading to the reclamation of the work please contact me at ashermains@gmail.com. Below is a gallery consisting of each piece of the installation.